Detailing & Treating Trim

First thing’s first: Trim is anything applied to the car to enhance style and appearance.

Truth be told…

It’s trim that makes the difference between an otherwise plain-looking car and a sharp automobile.

Here’s the problem:

Due to the time involved in maintaining trim, it’s often overlooked.

Fact is trim that’s not cared for will become dirty, dull and worn.

You already know that.

The entire car will look bad. Terrible.

You want well-maintained trim that stands out and makes the car look great!

What Are We Talking About?

Let’s make sure we are on the same page…

Common trim items include chrome bumpers, window molding, chrome light rings, chrome door handles, rubber door and bumper guards, window wipers, emblems and antennas.

Classic and antique cars may also have horns, leather straps, hood ornaments and exposed exhaust manifolds.

Black Automotive Trim

Many cars made in the 1980s and 1990s featured some black trim.

Most black trim pieces are made of plastic, rubber, anodized aluminum or satin black painted metal.

All black trim should be regularly cleaned with car wash shampoo.

There’s no way around it!

But chill out because it’s easy.

Use a toothbrush, paintbrush or other soft detailing brush if extra scrubbing is required.

Whatever you do, don’t use a stiff bristle brush on black trim.

Why not?

It will scratch.

Let me tell you something else…

Black trim must be treated with a protectant approximately 6-8 times a year.

But here’s what I really want you to understand:

There are different treatments for different materials. Choose wisely!

For example, on smooth black plastic, you can use any vinyl and rubber dressing.

But for textured black plastic, get a vinyl and rubber dressing.

Meguiar’s Endurance Gel offers excellent longer protection.

You’ll get a rich, glossy look with it.

Otherwise, for best long-term results, choose a vinyl and rubber dressing that has ultraviolet (UV) protection. Preventing sun fading is key.

You do that with UV Protectant by 303.

The Use of Forever Black

Forever Black will bring back textured black plastic if it’s heavily weathered or faded.

This is a dye system for black plastic and rubber trim. It’s advertised as a permanent solution. In my experience, it will only last a couple of years.

Let me just say it.

Forever Black is not a total replacement for vinyl and rubber dressing.

After it cures, you still need to keep the trim protected and looking good with vinyl and rubber dressing.

Here’s the truth…

To properly maintain black anodized trim (including vinyl, plastic and rubber), you must use a high quality UV protectant that repeals dirt and prevent fading.

Anodized aluminum must be treated with great care. The coating is very thin.

Why is that a factor?

Even the mildest abrasives (polish and cleaners) will scuff or remove the coating. The sun is a problem, too. UV rays will fade black anodized trim.

There’s no doubt about it: Painted black trim is often difficult to maintain.

If you wax it, the original satin finish will begin to take on gloss. If you don’t treat it, the trim will fade and become flat.

Here’s the solution:

Treat satin black trim (windshield wipers are an example) with Meguiar’s Ultimate Quik Detailer.

This product is equally amazing on trim areas.

It offers a natural satin finish, it dries to a grease-less finish and won’t soften the black paint.

You simply wipe it on and let it dry!

Rubber Seals & Moldings

Rubber seals and moldings around windows, doors, lights, hood, trunk and bumpers are designed to protect from water, wind and dirt.

These rubber components also enhance appearance.

But they need care.

They’ll become stiff and brittle and will eventually crack or tear without maintenance.

So, do this:

Clean your rubber door, trunk and hood seals with soap and water twice a year.

Treat the seals with a water-based vinyl and rubber dressing. Be sure to allow the dressing to penetrate for 10 to 15 minutes.

Then simply dry the seals with a clean towel.

I use Nextzett’s Gummi Pflege Rubber Care Stick on seals.

It has a fantastic applicator bottle and the product dries completely oil-free and protects against cracking.

Some manufacturers, like Porsche and BMW, recommend talcum powder on door and hood seals.

This is actually for providing lubrication.

Yes, this will extend the life of the door seal. You can do it too.

Simply sprinkle some talcum powder on a small piece of t-shirt material. Wipe it onto the seal after applying rubber and vinyl dressing.

Don’t miss anything!

Rubber seals around windows, lights, door handles and mirrors should also be cleaned twice a year. Just use a brush and soapy water.

But there’s more to know about this little known aspect…

Exposed rubber seals should be treated a bit more frequently than door and hood seals.

Why’s that?

They get heavy UV radiation from the sun.

I recommend treating window seals with rubber and vinyl UV protectant once a month.

Apply the protectant prior to cleaning your windows. Use a generous amount.

It’s key to allow it to penetrate before buffing dry.

It’s not difficult either. Use a cotton or foam swab to apply dressing in those tight areas.

Pro Tip: Get a quick detailing spray to clean off excess protectant from painted surfaces.

Care for Badges & Emblems

Many cars have badges or emblems. This sports the manufacturer’s crest or the name of the automobile.

The goods news is these badges are easily cleaned. A soft toothbrush or detailing brush and soapy water does the trick.

After cleaning, protect the badge with a coat of wax or sealant.

Remove any excess wax with a quick detailing spray and a clean toothbrush or detailing brush.

Car name emblems, on the other hand, are often much more difficult to clean and wax near. Those emblem scripts are tricky areas.

Waxing around these is a real challenge!

Pro Tip: Use cotton swabs or wrap the head of a tooth brush with a single layer of cotton t-shirt material.

Door and Bumper Guards

Many cars include rubber door and bumper molding. It serves to protect the car from door dings and soft bumps.

Treat these pieces of trim with rubber and vinyl protectant once a month.

Keep them in good shape.

I really like Meguiar’s Endurance Tire Gel for this. It also works great under the hood.

Door and bumper molding should be thoroughly cleaned at least twice a year. Use soapy water and a toothbrush or detailing brush.

You know how dirt builds up on the bottom edges?

It goes in cracks or around the small caps used to terminate ends of molding pieces.

Simple. Use the brush and soapy water to get in the cracks.

Caring for Light Covers

Plastic light covers scratch easily. That’s just life.

After only a few months on the road, light covers will begin to show signs of wear.

To keep them looking good, they must be regularly cleaned. Polished too.

I find it useful to remove light covers, at least twice a year, for cleaning.

Most can be removed with a Phillips screwdriver.

You know what?

Doing so allows me to inspect the seal for wear, check for corrosion and also clean the painted area around the light.

For thorough cleaning and light polishing of all clear plastics, I recommend Plexus.

Don’t Forget License Plate Frames

License plates and their frames should be removed at least once a year.

No, I’m not crazy. Such areas usually need the most cleaning, polishing and treating.

You’d be amazed at the dirt that collects behind your license plate and its frame.

Here’s an idea…

A good time to do this cleaning is when you renew your tags.

With the license plate removed, you can take it to a deep sink and give it a good scrub.

After cleaning, give the plate a quick buff. Use a paint cleaner or fine polish.

Finally, protect the plate with a wax or sealant. Clean and protect the frame, too.

Regarding Retractable Antennas

Retractable antennas, manual or electric, require regular maintenance.

This is often overlooked!

The antenna mast should be cleaned and lubricated twice a year. Use a paper towel or rag sprayed with a penetrating lubricant.

Be sure to wipe off excess lubricant with a clean towel.

What if an antenna mast shows lots of dirt or signs of corrosion?

Use SOS pads before any lubricant. Scrub gently and rinse the SOS pad residue off of the antenna and painted surfaces.

Polishing Metals

Before Polishing
Stainless steel is one of the more difficult metals to polish. It is very hard, so if the metal has imperfections, it would take a lot of work by hand to create a nice finish. However, using a polishing ball and cordless drill, it took less than 30 minutes to achieve excellent results.

Most car fanatics love bright, shiny and polished metal.

There’s nothing quite like perfect chrome, polished aluminum wheels or bright exhaust tips to improve the good looks of a car.

You know you love it!

For example, engine compartments with polished manifolds really make a difference.

While polished metal is great to look at, it’s not always easy to achieve. This is especially true if it has been neglected.

Guys, with the right tools and a little work, you’ll get great results.

Polishing Chrome

Chrome is by far the most common bright work on an automobile.

Chromium resists tarnishing and holds a shine better than all other metals. Platinum included.

But chrome has a single enemy: rust.

Over time, it oxidizes and develops rust spots. The higher quality the chrome plating, the more it will resist rusting.

Eventually though, it will happen.

Don’t wait!

If you allow chrome to go too long, without removing rust, it will become permanently pitted.

After Polishing
I was lucky. Although rough, the tailpipes did not have any deep pits or imperfections. They polished to a bright shine very quickly.

Heavy rust on chromed parts requires a decision: polish or re-chrome.

Replating small parts is pretty easy. Simply remove the part. Then, hand it to your local plating company.

Too easy.

A few days later, you’ll have your part back looking like new.

But what about a bumper or a window frame?

Replating a medium or large part is expensive. Even modest-sized parts, such as hubcaps, can cost $100 or more.

You should try to save it if you think there’s even a remote chance the rusted chrome part is salvageable!

Removing rust and polishing chrome can usually restore chrome to a reasonable condition.

There’s hope. If the rust simply coats, and isn’t deeply embedded, the chrome may come back.

Basically, as long as the chrome is not flaking off, you have a chance of saving it.

A little secret: Most pro detailers use fine grades of steel wool to remove rust from chrome.

It’s quick and easy!

Use caution with this route. Even fine (#000) or superfine (#0000) steel wool leaves minor scratches that’ll need treatment with a metal or chrome polish.

Heck, household steel wool soap pads work well too.

The soap acts as both a cleaner and a lubricant to prevent scratching (use plenty of water).

Warning: Keep steel wool away from painted surfaces.

Use a toothbrush and household cleanser for rust in cracks and crevices that you can’t reach.

Simple! Wet the toothbrush, dip it in the cleanser and start scrubbing.

The abrasives in the cleanser remove rust very fast. Rinse well with plenty of fresh water.

The final step is to polish.

Use a good chrome polishing product that’s made for chrome. A little goes a long way – use just a little dab at a time.

By the way…

The best metal-polishing cloth is soft cotton, such as t-shirt material. Cotton fleece, from an old sweatshirt, works great as well.

Polishing Aluminum

Before Polishing
Prior to polishing, my wheels were tarnished and dull. The difficulty with these wheels is polishing between all of the bolts.

Aluminum is an easy metal to polish.

It’s soft enough that even rough aluminum parts can be polished to a bright shine. One day I did the aluminum parts on the top side of my 911’s engine.

I went nuts!

Everything was subject to being polished, including the intake manifold and distributor. It was beautiful!

Polished aluminum has a fault in that it tarnishes quickly.

Most factory-polished aluminum parts are sprayed with a clear lacquer, acrylic or urethane to seal the part.

This is actually very common on polished wheels.

Thing is…

You must first remove the coating if you’re trying to restore a polished aluminum part that has been anodized or clear coated.

Many professional polishing shops use an aircraft-strength stripper for this. Powerful stuff.

Use these chemicals with great caution. Never let them come near your car.

After Polishing
After polishing, the wheels are very bright, almost like chrome.

OK so, at this point, let’s touch on a bit of a controversy.

You can polish aluminum by machine or by hand. That’s true.

How hard-working are you?

With the invention of the polishing ball, there’s no reason to polish by hand.

Why would you?

With a polishing ball, and a cordless drill, you can polish your wheels to a brilliant finish in minutes.

Note: Polished aluminum Kinesis wheels require polishing every six months or so to keep their shine.

Polishing Stainless Steel

Stainless steel is a wonderful metal.

Although it does not polish as brightly as chrome or aluminum, it will take on a good shine.

The only problem is that stainless steel is very hard. Really hard.

A common use for stainless steel is the exhaust system, including the exhaust tip.

Many people cover unpolished stainless steel exhaust tips with chrome sleeves. But, with a polishing ball, that exhaust tip goes to a bright shine in minutes.

The Trim Summary

It’s the small details that make the difference between a regular car and one that’s stunning.

You already know that.

At the San Diego Automobile Museum, I couldn’t help but notice how the beautifully restored, polished and treated trim on some of the vintage and exotic cars made for a stunning display.

Never forget to pay attention to your trim. What a big difference it makes in your car’s final appearance!

Got a convertible? Check out of Convertible Top Cleaning & Conditioning page!